Climate Change Doubles Snowfall in Alaska

Researchers prove that climate change doubles snowfall around North America’s tallest peaks, in Alaska. Hence, the Alaska Range gets an average of 18 feet of snow every year. This amount of snow represents more than double the average of 8 feet every year from 1600 until 1840. Scientists from Dartmouth College, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Maine have developed the new study.

They argued that the culprit for this massive amount of snow is climate change. Erich Osterberg is an assistant professor of earth sciences at Dartmouth College and also the principal investigator for this research. He argues that the data they have revealed was a big shock for them when they had seen so much snowfall.

Climate change doubles snowfall in Alaska

Due to the unusual or unexpected results, researchers had to double-check the results of their study. They claim that dangerous air pollution level rises and temperature increases started to be common due to climate change effects. However, an uncommon effect of global warming was the increase in regional precipitation. The Alaska Range is North America’s highest mountain range. The chain of mountains measure about 600 miles, and they stretch from the Alaska-Canada border up to the Alaska Peninsula.

The largest mountain in this range is Denali situated in the Denali National Park and Preserve. Relying on the new findings, during the winter the amount of snowfall has increased by 117% since the mid-19th century in Southcentral Alaska. In the same period, the records show that the amount of summer snows has increased by 49%.

The new study was published on December 19th in the journal Scientific Reports. This brings more evidence regarding the effect of climate change when it comes to regional precipitation. At the beginning of this month, another analysis was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study revealed that human-determined warming might have boosted the record rain for Hurricane Harvey over Houston.

When developing the current study, specialists have examined two distinct ice core samples. They have collected them at 13,000 feet from Mount Hunter in Denali National Park. The authors of the new study indicate that warmer waters from the Indian and Pacific Oceans determined an empowerment of the “Aleutian Low” pressure system. This brought a northward flow of moist, warm air, determining the snowfall increases.

The effect of climate change on Alaska’s glaciers

Osterberg indicates that the amount of snowfall they have revealed in their study has never been in seen in the 1,200-year record. However, despite the snow, the glaciers in Alaska are still suffering due to climate change since they are widely retreating at lower altitudes. Even there is an increase in the amount of snowfall that could “fed” them at high altitudes, at lower altitudes glaciers continue to melt.

Back in 2015, scientists have highlighted in a study that the glaciers in Alaska are losing 75 billion tons of ice every year. Unfortunately, over the past 60 years, Alaska’s average temperatures increased by 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, the most recent years were even warmer. Osterberg also indicates that the glaciers in Alaska are the ones that melt the fastest. Their melting is triggered by the warming in the summer.

Two other scientists have looked at the new study, commenting on how long-term warming can influence other weather factors to develop compounding effects. David Robinson is a climate scientist at Rutgers University, and he searched for patterns in snow cover. Hence, he revealed that this is a situation where specialists see a connection between hemispheric, regional and local phenomena.

Mountains covered in snow

Even if at high altitudes the amount of snowfall is greater, at low altitudes glaciers continue to melt.

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Robinson says that it is difficult to explain this incredible change when it comes to both anthropogenic influences and natural variability that act at different scales. Mark Serreze is the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. He says that they have always revealed new phenomena happening.

They have seen how warming effects influence the quantity of moisture the atmosphere can hold and also some shifts in weather patterns. Regarding the snowfall amount in the study, Serreze argues that this is part of a larger range of changes occurring for the hydrological system in the Arctic.

How warm temperatures cause more snow

Dominic Winsky is a research assistant at Dartmouth and also the lead author of this study. He argues that the ice core record regarding the modern snowfall rates in Alaska are even higher than the rates registered before the Industrial Revolution. The increase in precipitation was also encapsulated in weather station data from the last 50 years. However, ice cores indicate that the scale of this change is higher than natural conditions.

From previous studies, we have learned that climate change means more than an increase in average surface temperatures. The term also refers to variations in sea ice, snow and sea levels. Even if this may sound strange, warmer temperatures can lead to increased amounts of snowfall. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a very good explanation for this statement.

Warmer temperatures determine a large quantity of water to evaporate from the oceans and land. Hence, this leads to more dangerous storms, increased quantities of precipitation and precipitation’s variations in certain areas. Normally, a warmer climate triggers the fall of precipitation in the form of rain instead of snow. Nevertheless, in some areas, if temperatures increase, but they are still lower than the freezing point, then you can see more snowfall.

This new study encouraged climate deniers to argue that the large amounts of snowfall prove that climate change is a hoax. The amount of snow casts doubt on climate science. Hence, climate deniers like the Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma argue that climate change does not exist.

Summing up

Scientists have proved that climate change doubles snowfall in Alaska at high altitudes but still melts the glaciers located at lower altitudes. The new study highlights that even if the whole planet experiences a slow warming, particular areas can reveal dramatically bigger changes. Climate change can trigger dangerous effects, from high air pollution levels to heatwaves and heavy snowfalls.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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